A Study for Memoir Writers: Night by Elie Wiesel should have been darker

Finally, I have read Elie Wiesel’s famous memoir Night, his harrowing story of survival through several WWII Nazi concentration camps. How interesting that no publisher wanted the 245-page memoir (originally titled And the World Remained Silent) because it was too dark! Who wanted to read about such “morbid” stuff. Finally it was chopped into books half the size of the manuscript and published in Spain and then France, not reaching the U.S. until 1960 where it languished until we caught on to its importance and turned it into required reading by many schools. The book has never won an award, although Wiesel has been honored many times.

I read the newer 2006 translation of Night by Wiesel’s wife, which is said by reviewers to be more poignant than the previous clipped versions. I still felt it was somewhat wooden and that so much detail was left out as to be confusing in many instances. Only Wiesel knows what the original Yiddish manuscript held, but perhaps it held no more detail than the hyphenated, translated versions give us. How many of us can remember exactly what happened and all the details of a traumatic event, not to mention even the everyday events? What did you have for dinner last Monday?

It is interesting to me how the first half of Night seems distant and sparse — as though the author were numb, which perhaps he was. He was also a new writer. The second half is a little better, as though another writer took over to bring in some feelings and some exploration of inner thoughts. Here is where the book starts to shine. And this is what would make it an interesting study for memoir writers. Examine the differences between the halves so you understand the importance of bringing yourself deeply into your memoir, not just reciting the facts of what happened but letting readers into your psyche and what you were thinking. I can deal with incomplete events and details, but I want to hear what’s going on in your mind because that’s what separates dry history from vivid memoir. Tell us how you wish your father was dead so you could be free to struggle for your life without worrying about him, too; tell us why you lost your faith in God and how that affected you.

Night is thought to be fictionalized, although Wiesel is said to become angry when questioned about it. Even if parts of it are, they do not detract from the truth of what happened. Wiesel did not lie to make better sales, he probably embellished to give us a better understanding and more flowing account of how hideous the Holocaust was. It was hideous, and that is the truth. Its most important lesson, as Wiesel tells us, is that “Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” While the memoir could have been better, it still stands iconic in that it was one of the first Holocaust memoirs to be published.

Your story is important, too, even if someone says it could have been written better.

Linda Austin
“Cherry Blossoms in Twilight”
http://www.moonbridgebooks.com

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About moonbridgebooks

Co-author of Cherry Blossoms in Twilight, a WWII Japan memoir of her mother's childhood; Co-author/Editor of Battlefield Doc, a medic's memoir of combat duty during the Korean War; life writing enthusiast; loves history and culture (especially Japan), and cats
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